KICKOFF: Sunday, 6:30 ET
SURFACE: Grass (Alltel Stadium)
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Chris Collinsworth
RADIO: Check local listing
SERIES: 10th meeting. Eagles lead the series, 6-3. Last meeting was in Week 2 of the '03 season in Philadelphia. Patriots took advantage of six Eagles turnovers to cruise to a 31-10 victory.
2004 RANKINGS: Eagles: offense 9th (24th rush, 6th pass); defense 10th (16th rush, 12th pass). Patriots: offense 7th (7th rush, 13th pass); defense 9th (6th rush, 19th pass).
KEYS TO THE GAME:
The blocking schemes for both offensive lines will need to be precise. The Eagles did fare particularly well against the two 3-4 defenses they faces this year, and the Patriots struggles at times picking up the Eagles blitzers in the 2003 meeting. While the Patriots have played on this stage twice in the past three seasons, the Eagles have precious little Super Bowl experience on their roster. Most important, QB Donovan McNabb needs to come out poised and be precise with his throws, whether WR Terrell Owens is a factor or not. The Eagles must take advantage of every opportunity if they are to pull the upset, and they cannot afford to lose the turnover battle. That's because New England is capable of playing any type of offense it needs. With RB Corey Dillon providing the power running game, the Patriots are a threat to run on most any down. That opens QB Tom Brady to stretch the field more than in past seasons. Although he lacks a star receiver of Owens' caliber, he has a group of receivers who are each capable of producing big games on his own. The Eagles will pick and choose their blitz packages, but young CBs Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard will have to produce when they're left in man coverage.
FAST FACTS: Eagles QB Donovan McNabb will become only the third African-American to start at quarterback in a Super Bowl. ... McNabb was the first quarterback to ever throw more than 30 touchdown passes while tossing fewer than 10 interceptions in a season. ... McNabb has had a passer rating of higher than 100 in 11 of the Eagles' 18 games this season. ... Seven players and coaches will participate in their fourth Super Bowl with the Patriots.
PREDICTION: Patriots 27-24
- WLB Mark Simoneau was able to practice Thursday, but Keith Adams is still
expected to start against the Patriots. Simoneau missed the Eagles' first
two playoff games with a strained ankle.
- RB Brian Westbrook may or may not return punts Sunday, but the one certainty
is he will play a major role in the Eagles' offense. While Westbrook is a
versatile back who has been compared with week to St. Louis' Marshall Faulk,
the Patriots rely heavily on the power running game provided by RB Corey Dillon.
"I think Corey is a heck of a running back," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He's done it for so many years now that he is very consistent. He seems to love to play the game.
"Brian is such a big part of our football team. The things we ask him to do ... that makes him a very valuable player.
- Coach Andy Reid showed plenty of respect for the Patriots' defense this week, and knows the game could come down to the adjustments he and his players are able to make during the game." They give the quarterbacks and lot of different looks, your receivers a lot of different looks and with that, your offensive line a lot of different looks," Reid said. "Somewhere during the game you're going to have to make an adjustment. It shouldn't shock you if that comes up during the game.
- DL Richard Seymour made it through Thursday's rain-soaked practice and continues
on his path toward returning to action for Super Bowl XXXIX. The slick field
conditions at Bartram Trail High School, the Patriots' practice site, kept
Seymour off the field Monday, but with the game three days away, Seymour needs
the practice time even on a slick field, which has hampered the Patriots'
practice sessions this week.
- LB Roman Phifer was asked Thursday if the Super Bowl will be his last game.
"I don't know. I still have one more game to play, which is the most
important. It could be my last game, but I don't want to think of anything
negative right now. I'm preparing to play in a big game. It's one of the biggest
of my career and I'm looking forward to that," Phifer said.
- DT Keith Traylor commented on defensive backs coach Eric Mangini's prospects
as a defensive coordinator. Mangini is considered a leading candidate to replace
Romeo Crennel, who will depart to become the Browns head coach. "I think
he'll be a good one," Traylor said. "He's worked in this league
for 10 or 11 years and his time has come. He's paid his dues and I'll be happy
for him if he gets a coordinator's job. He'll do well."
- PK Adam Vinatieri has booted game-winning field goal in each of the Patriots'
last two Super Bowl titles. He is preparing for the opportunity to kick a
third. "You always prepare and assume that you will have an opportunity
on the field," Vinatieri said. "You never know if you're going to
be a cheerleader at the end of the game or your number is going to get called.
But you prepare to be on the field. You will dream about it many times Saturday
night, but if the opportunity comes up, hopefully you take advantage of it."
- QB Tom Brady's toughness is something that doesn't go unnoticed in the Patriots' locker room or in the coaches' offices. Brady took some big hits in 2004, but never left a game injured, including after a shot to the face in Kansas City that left him spitting blood. His position coach, Josh McDaniels, commented on Brady's toughness Thursday. "He's got incredible toughness," McDaniels said. "He is the epitome of one of those old-school tough guys. He's not coming out of the game and he's not going to tell you that he's hurt either. We appreciate how tough he is because we know we can lean hard on him and he's going to take whatever they give him and he's going to keep coming back. When his teammates see that guy taking shots and getting back up and getting in the huddle and scrapping and clawing, that rubs off on everybody and has a good effect on the offense.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Terrell Owens saga has evolved dramatically throughout the week. No longer is the question about whether or not he will play, but about how much he will play.
And that likely hinges on how high his pain threshold is.
After practicing on a wet field Wednesday, Owens tested his surgically-repaired ankle further by running some deep routes Thursday.
"I've gone through practice every day and every day I feel like I'm progressing," Owens said.
Owens said he hasn't been using a brace or tape to support the ankle, but admitted he won't know until game time just how strong he will be. If the ankle proves to be sore and significantly less than 100 percent, can emotion carry Owens through four quarters?
"Just like any other athlete in any sport -- a lot of emotion takes them through the game and carries them," Owens said. "I don't think this will be any different. A lot of guys play with injuries, play with pain week in and week out, whatever the sport may be.
Owens appears a virtual lock to play. How many snaps he is able to take, and how effective he can be, remains to be seen. But the Eagles' other receivers have stepped up in his absence and will likely need to produce again Sunday for Philadelphia to move the ball with any consistency.
"If I'm not in there, I know those guys are going to get the job done," Owens said. "My mindset is to play however long I can play."
The Eagles may not blitz as frequently as most seem to believe they do, but when they do bring extra rushers, they do it well with sound design, disguise and execution. The Patriots' ability to handle that pressure and make sound decisions under duress will be a key a component in the outcome of Super Bowl XXXIX.
"The Eagles are extremely disciplined (when they blitz)," Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said. "There are very few times where they screw it up. Whoever is supposed to be blitzing is blitzing and whoever is supposed to be covering is covering. As a result, they are able to put as much stress as they possibly can on you with a minimal amount of risk.
"We have to be as disciplined in our approach to identifying it and picking it up and be rock solid in our assignments and not only make sure we have a hat on everybody that we're supposed to have a hat on, but that we're between them and the quarterback. Our challenge is to recognize what they're doing, cover them up and get a hat on everybody that we can and allow the quarterback to throw with the comfort of knowing it's blocked."
That comfort level is hard to reach against the Eagles, who finished second in the league with 47 sacks behind Atlanta (48).
Those sacks came from 17 different players while the team was credited with two. Kearse led the group with 7.5 and the defensive line as a unit had 32, including 16 from interior linemen. New England, incidentally, allowed the fifth fewest sacks in the league (26).
"It's not like they invented what they're doing," center Dan Koppen said. "But they just have the right guys in the right places that know how to run it and they run it really well. They time it, they disguise it, and they do all the things necessary to be effective. We have to recognize it, know our responsibilities and assignments and get hats on hats."
The Patriots apparently did not handle the blitz all that well in last year's meeting with Philly, a game they won 31-10 back in Week 2 of 2003. That assessment does not show up in the game stats from that afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. Tom Brady completed 30-of-44 passes for 255 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions against an injury-depleted Eagles secondary that day. He was sacked just twice for minus-8 yards.
"We've done alright this year," Scarnecchia said about the team's ability to handle blitzes. "The last time we played these guys, we didn't do very well. We had a lot of free rushers. We had a lot of assignment mistakes and just didn't do a good job of picking things up. Hopefully we'll do it better this time."
Brady will have to be mentally sharp and can try to use his cadence to disrupt the timing of the Eagles' blitzes.
"We put a lot of responsibility on our quarterbacks," Patriots QB coach Josh McDaniels said. "They're involved in protections and route adjustments. (Tom) has to be ready to handle whatever they give us and obviously this team is one of the more multiple blitzing teams we've faced. It's a big challenge, but he has to deal with it and be ready to go. They do everything. They bring linebackers, safeties, cornerbacks. We'll have to deal with it well in order to win."
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